Police are taking stronger measures against people who harass politicians and such incidents are falling, according to President’s Office Abbas Adil Riza.
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile alleged that freedom of speech is being unfairly restricted by the crackdown.
Commenting on the arrest of an MDP activist known as Okay Zahir – who allegedly called the Islamic Affairs Minister a ‘baaghee’, or ‘traitor’ – Abbas said that Zahir stood accused of harassment.
Local media reported yesterday that Zahir’s period in detention had been extended by a further 10 days after his original arrest on August 7. Zahir is a former director of the Thilafushi Corporation (TCL).
Abbas alleged that the accused “verbally abused the Islamic Minister”, engaging in “indecent behaviour” towards Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Seed whom he claimed was in the company of his nine year-old son at the time of the incident.
Neither Sheikh Shaheem nor Police Spokesman Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef were responding to calls at time of press.
A source who had seen the arrest warrant claimed that Zahir was accused of approaching Shaheem’s son on a number of different occasions, inquiring as to the whereabouts of “baaghee Shaheem”.
The source stated that police obtained the warrant due to their belief that this alleged offence would be repeated.
MDP spokesman Hamed Abdul Ghafoor stated that the charges against Zahir seemed “very bizarre”, and expressed his concern that “the scope of freedom of speech is being severely constrained.”
“One could argue it is unconstitutional,” continued Ghafoor. “I don’t see how giving your opinion of the truth equals harassment”.
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Lawyer Hisaan Hussain used social networks to express her belief that calling someone a ‘baaghee’ is not a criminal offense.
Since his accession to the Presidency, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s public appearances have often been accompanied by heckling crowds disputing the legitimacy of his government.
As well as calling for early presidential elections, the anti-government demonstrations have attempted to mock and ridicule leading government figures as part of a well-choreographed non-violent strategy.
The harassment of politicians has recently been central to the government’s negotiations with the opposition MDP.
During the last round of the UN-mediated roadmap talks in June, pro-government parties presented the MDP’s representatives with a list of 30 suggestions for resolving political tensions in the country which included calls to stop the harassment of political figures.
However, the list also included calls for the MDP to stop the use of “black magic” and “erotic tools”, leading the MDP to interpret a lack of sincerity on the part of the pro-government group.
More recently, President Waheed said that he would not engage in the all-party talks until the harassment of his officials stopped.
The MDP announced last week that it intended to suspend its program of anti-government demonstrations in order to “facilitate meaningful dialogue”.
This move was initially welcomed by the government, before protesters targeted Vice President Waheed Deen as he attended a ceremony in Hulhumale, causing Abbas to tell local media that the government’s participation in talks may have to be reconsidered.
Freedom within limits
During a speech given in June, President Waheed stated his belief that freedom of expression ought not to be permitted to the extent that it impinged on the rights of others.
“People misuse the right to freedom of expression and yell whatever words that come to mind at other people. You have seen and heard this, not just on TV or radio, but on the streets, in front of houses and schools. This is not how it should be,” Dr Waheed was reported as saying.
As well as being enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to freedom of expression is listed in the 2008 Maldivian Constitution as one of the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens.
The right to freedom of speech, however, has long been met with caveats and provisos which in effect limit the ability of individuals to unrestricted expression.
Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights espoused the right to freedom of expression whilst delineating restrictions it describes as “necessary in a democratic society”.
The list of exceptions includes constraints “for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others”.
Similarly, the right to freedom of speech is guaranteed by the first amendment to the US constitution but has been restricted by subsequent Supreme Court rulings which have included issues concerning incitement, false statements of fact, and obscenity.
During the speech, Waheed expressed his hope that the People’s Majlis would move to curb the actions of those who, he felt, were abusing this fundamental freedom.